SOUTH PORTLAND – It has been nearly a decade since Bill Clinton served as president. But that didn’t make a difference to the hundreds of people, some of whom stood for three hours in the mist and rain, to see Clinton lead a rally Sunday night on behalf of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Elizabeth “Libby” Mitchell.

From people dressed as political signs, to a father feeding a bottle of formula to his baby daughter, to a couple eating pork fried rice while they waited in line, fans of the former president turned out in force to hear his speech boosting Mitchell’s campaign.

Connie Nichols of Portland and her daughter, Sarah Pearson of South Portland, arrived at 3:30 p.m., putting them at the head of a line that snaked from the entrance to Southern Maine Community College’s Hutchinson Union Building all the way to the rear of the parking lot behind the gym.

“We love Bill. I’m inspired by this man. He is a true leader who can really energize people,” Nichols said.

“We need to be energized. We need Bill,” said Pearson, referring to some of the inroads made by tea party supporters across the country.

About 1,500 people turned out for the event, which was held in the gymnasium.

Among them was Robert Shaw of Danville, who paraded through the crowd as a walking Democratic Party political sign.

In addition to a donkey pinned to his straw hat that blinked like a Christmas tree light, Shaw wore several political buttons and a T-shirt with the words “Proud to be an American Democrat” stamped on it.

Shaw, 66, said he admires Clinton because he is a “champion” of the country’s working men and women.

“It’s all about serving the people, and he did that. He got along great with everyone,” Shaw said.

He said he’s confident that Mitchell will adhere to the same principles as Clinton.

Jennifer Kruszewski and her friend Eric Bailey, both of Portland, did well to plan ahead. Anticipating a long wait, they ordered pork fried rice and brought lawn chairs.

“I’m here to support Libby, but I have to say I find Bill Clinton inspiring. He has this ability to crystallize what the real issues are,” Kruszewski said. “I think many Americans are really angry now because the economy is bad and people need jobs. It’s going to take someone like Bill Clinton to come here and say, ‘You’ve only given us two years. We need more time.’“

“I’m hearing a lot about discontent with the government right now from some of my Republican friends,” Bailey said.

Rachel Champoux, a student at SMCC majoring in math, didn’t hold back when asked why she came.

“I came to see Bill Clinton. I was always very taken with him,” Champoux said. “He was a great president. Times were good when he was president, and times are not so good now. We are in a recession and we have a war going on.”

Another SMCC student, Joe Gorson, described himself as a conservative with Republican leanings.

“I came here to see the president and Libby Mitchell. I wanted to see them because I might be leaning the other way (toward voting Democrat in November),” Gorson said.

John Oser, who lives in Parsonsfield, greeted people as they entered the gym. Oser, who plans to vote for Mitchell, said he has been a fan of Clinton for years.

“His performance in office, the way he led the country and the way he handled the budget was awesome. He’s a very intelligent man,” Oser said.

Michael McKinney was feeding his 5-month-old daughter, Faith, a bottle of formula inside the gym. He and his wife, Renee, drove 45 minutes from Hiram to see Clinton.

The proud parents denied they were trying to indoctrinate their child into the Democratic Party.

“I’ll be OK with whatever she chooses,” her father said.

Though Clinton, who had been campaigning earlier in the day in Massachusetts on behalf of U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, arrived an hour later than expected, the appreciative crowd said the wait was well worth it.

“I just love Bill Clinton. If it weren’t for him, I could not have retired. Now I am supported by my 401(k) and Social Security,” said Sue Poulin, a South Portland resident. “I was fired up by his speech. He never disappoints.”

“I loved everything,” said Polly Carey of Greene. “He’s very smart.”

And Sheryl Baker of Gray said Clinton’s message should be heeded by all Democrats.

“He pointed out that we are at a crossroads in the next election, and that we stand to lose a lot,” Baker said.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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